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Hall Inductees Freeman, Levens Shared Unforgettable Highlights

Running back Dorsey Levens and wide receiver Antonio Freeman are known for enjoying some of their biggest moments at the biggest times, and in that sense it’s fitting the two will be inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame together in July. - More | Press Release


As mid-round draft picks who joined the Packers in consecutive years and contributed to one of the most prolific offenses in team history, running back Dorsey Levens and wide receiver Antonio Freeman have shared a similar backdrop to their careers.

They even were in tandem back deep on kickoff returns in their early days.

But they're also known for enjoying some of their biggest moments at the biggest times, and in that sense it's even more fitting the two will be inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame together in July.

In a conference call with state media on Wednesday, they reminisced about some of their more memorable on-field exploits.

For Levens, who played eight seasons for the Packers after being selected in the fifth round of the 1994 draft out of Georgia Tech, the talk always goes back to the 1996 NFC Championship Game against Carolina at Lambeau Field.

Levens had a career day in helping the Packers get to their first Super Bowl in 29 years, piling up 205 yards from scrimmage (88 rushing, 117 receiving) in the 30-13 victory. He got the team jump-started on back-to-back plays to finish the first quarter and begin the second.

With the Packers trailing 7-0, Levens converted a third-and-1 with a 35-yard run off tackle to move the offense into scoring range. Then on the next snap, he wheeled out of the backfield and down the sideline, leaping to make a spectacular 29-yard touchdown catch on a pass from Brett Favre.

At first glance, it appeared Levens would have a hard time just hauling in the pass, let alone getting both feet down in bounds near the front pylon of the end zone. But he did both incredibly smoothly while taking a hit from Carolina cornerback Eric Davis, tying up the game and sending the Packers on their way.

"I was a guy who would leak into the flat to try to get positive yardage for a first down, and what we did is try to trick them," Levens recalled. "It was a wheel route into the flat, and you hope they bite on it (so you can) turn it upfield. Thank goodness Brett had enough confidence in me to throw it up there and give me an opportunity to go make a play."

Even more remarkable was the fact that Head Coach Mike Holmgren had not called that play in a game all season. Levens estimated that the offense practiced the play "at least twice a week, probably from Week 4 on, and it was just never dialed up."

But it was at a crucial time.

"It was '64 fullback wheel,' or something like that, I don't know the exact terminology," said Levens, who is now a sportscaster in Atlanta doing some play-by-play for Georgia Tech football. "I remember running it all the time. It worked all the time in practice. I don't know if Mike didn't have enough confidence in me or the play or whatever, but apparently he had enough confidence in one of the biggest games that year up until that point."

The team's veterans had similar confidence in a young Freeman during his rookie year of 1995, telling him he always looked just one step or one block away from breaking a punt return for a score.

Freeman, a third-round draft choice in 1995 from Virginia Tech, credited fellow receiver Robert Brooks for mentoring him and helping him make the transition to the NFL. Whether it was stepping aside during training camp so Freeman could take snaps with the starting offense or encouraging him behind closed doors, Brooks was among the team's elder statesmen who could see Freeman's playmaking ability on special teams.

"They said, 'You're not going to do it until we really need you to make that play, so just be patient,'" Freeman said. "Well, 16 games go by, and they're still talking about me running a touchdown back. I'm like, 'It's over. It's the playoffs. I'm not going to do it in the playoffs.' But it came at a key moment like those veterans warned me."

{sportsad300}It certainly did. With the Packers leading the Atlanta Falcons 14-10 in the second quarter of the NFC Wild Card playoff at Lambeau Field, Freeman ran back a punt 76 yards for a score, the first punt or kick return for a touchdown in the postseason in team history.

That ultimately was trumped by a couple of other big moments in Freeman's career, though, as he went on to play eight seasons total in Green Bay.

The following year, he caught an 81-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to give the Packers the lead for good in their 35-21 Super Bowl XXXI triumph over New England. At the time it was the longest play from scrimmage in Super Bowl history.

And then in 2000, he had the "Monday Night Miracle" in the rain at Lambeau, making a sliding catch flat on his back of a deflected pass in overtime that he ran into the end zone for a game-winning 43-yard touchdown to beat the Vikings.

"That is the one play, the signature play that I'm remembered for in the NFL," Freeman said. "I guess it's good to be remembered for one play than 'none' play."

Levens and Freeman are remembered for more than their share, and their places in the team's record book speak to their contributions over the long haul.

Levens ranks fifth all-time in rushing yards in team history with 3,937, while Freeman is third in club annals in touchdown receptions with 57.

Both sounded genuinely excited about being inducted into the Hall together, and they even shared a few laughs as their time on the conference call overlapped.

"We don't talk on the phone every day, but every time we see each other we don't miss a beat," Levens said of their friendship. "It's just like we're back in Green Bay playing again."

Making big plays at big times.

"We had great times together," Freeman said. "We started out returning kicks together.

"It builds brotherhood, and you never leave that brotherhood. You can move all over the country, far, far away from each other, but the memories and spirituality you share in that locker room, you can never take that away."

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